By Akua Devall
Boston University News Service
On Oct.9, hundreds of protesters congregated outside of Boston Common at noon to advocate for Massachusetts lawmakers to replace Columbus Day with an official statewide Indigenous Peoples Day.
The rally was hosted by The North American Indian Center of Boston, a non profit organization that advocates for the social and civil rights of Indigenous communities all over Massachusetts.
“[We] call on Governor Healey to make it a priority and other Indigenous-centered legislation,” NAICOB said in their 2023 press release.“ Marchers will celebrate the declaration of Indigenous Peoples Day in Boston and will urge city, state and governments to further take steps to address Indigenous community concerns.”
Only 20 out of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, including Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, recognize Indigenous People’s Day. The rally is also pushing to pass the full Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda, which has demands that include government officials addressing the disproportionate crisis of missing Indigenous women and renaming Christopher Columbus park.
Mahtowin Munroe, co-leader of United American Indians of New England, has been leading the fight to get Indigenous Peoples Day as a statewide holiday since 2015.
“One of the reasons we want the bill to be statewide is because instead of continuing to have to go town to town and city to city , it makes much more sense to pass it statewide,” Munroe said. “Maine has done that already, Vermont has done that already, so Massachusetts is really lagging behind.”
Keyana White, a BU alumni, wanted to get involved in the cause after being exposed to different Indigenous heritage sites and cultures through her mom’s work in anthropology.
“Growing up I was exposed to Indigenous issues and how they were rendered to be invisible in popular culture, and it made me realize there’s all these things going on that are unjust,” she said. “There also needs to be systemic action, there needs to be people who are in state and city governments to show up in solidarity with Indigenous people.”
The protesters first gathered in Boston Commons for a song and prayer and then made their way to the front of the Massachusetts Statehouse. They also encouraged other protesters of Indigenous backgrounds to step to the front and lead the march.
Jean-Luc Pierite, president of NAICOB, spoke on the Statehouse steps about the specific demands he wants passed in the Indigenous Legislative Agenda, like banning Native American Mascots in public schools.
“No longer should our children go to schools to see themselves in character, where they don’t see themselves in the textbooks,” Pierite said.“We demand to celebrate and uplift Native American culture and history in public school curriculums here in the commonwealth.”
Protesters then made their way to Faneuil Hall, yelling chants such as “No peace on stolen land” and “City by city, town by town, we’re going to take Columbus town.” Supporters in front of the hall also demanded that the building’s name be changed because it is named after Peter Fanuiel, a wealthy merchant whose wealth came from slave labor.
Danielle DeLuca, co-founder for Italian Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day, founded the organization in 2016 to dispel opposing beliefs that Columbus Day is necessary to celebrate Italian history and heritage.
“Columbus doesn’t need to be a symbol of Italian Americans, there are plenty of other Italian Americans who have done wonderful things for this country [and] Columbus is not one of them,” she said.”We cannot celebrate Italian Americans on a day that is honoring Columbus. You just cannot celebrate a perpetrator of genocide and victims of genocide on the same day.”
American Indians, Alaskan Natives, First Nations, Hawaiian natives, and Palestinians were some of the global Indigenous communities that were acknowledged for their ongoing human rights struggles.
Munroe believes every Massachusetts citizen can get involved in the cause in some way, shape or form.
“If you go online to maindigenous.org, you can get information about all of our bills, if you’re on Facebook you can go to United Americans of New England and North American Indian Center of Boston,” Munroe said. “And also show up, write your legislators, and at our website we have pre formatted email letters, it’ll take people two minutes to send those to support the various bills so we try to make it easy cause we need the support.”